Highlights of the Adler Planetarium: Rare Books & Works on Paper

Adler Planetarium

The Adler’s Rare Book Collection contains over 3,000 volumes, from first printed editions of medieval astronomical texts to star atlases and astrophysical works that shaped our modern view of the Universe. 

Portraying Constellations
These are possibly the earliest printed depictions of the classical Western constellations. They illustrate the first printed version (dated 1482) of "Poeticon Astronomicon", a work about constellations written around the second century AD. 
Messages in the Stars
A primary motivation for observing and studying the sky was to decipher what the stars and planets had to tell about earthly affairs and individuals' fates and fortunes - the subject of astrology. This is the first printed edition (dated 1489) of an important astrological treatise written by the Persian astronomer and astrologer Albumasar in the ninth century. 
Revolution in the Sky
In 1543, Copernicus published "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). This diagram, taken from the second edition of 1566, illustrates the revolutionary idea presented in the book: contrary to what was generally believed at the time, the Earth does not sit at the center of the Universe. Rather, it orbits the Sun together with the other planets.
Galileo Pirated
In March 1610, Galileo Galilei published "Sidereus Nunclus", in which he reported groundbreaking discoveries with the telescope. He discovered the Moon has a rough surface just like the Earth, Jupiter has satellites, and the Milky Way is formed by myriads of stars. The book was an overnight sensation and sold out quickly. A publisher from Frankfurt did not take long to produce this pirate version. Interestingly, many subsequent textbooks reproduced the rougher woodcut illustrations of the pirate edition, not the original engravings.
Completing the Temple of Astronomy
In this book from 1627 Johannes Kepler presents a set of tables to predict planetary positions. The frontispiece (illustration opposite the title page) shows Kepler in his studio, at the lower left corner of the temple of astronomy. On his desk sits a model of the temple's dome, signifying that Kepler is completing the work of his predecessors. Note also Kepler's handwriting on the bottom. He signed and dedicated this copy of the book to Benjamin Ursinus. Ursinus had introduced Kepler to a new mathematical tool that he used in the book: logarithms. 
Shoot for the Moon
In this book, seventeenth century scholar John Wilkins speculates about traveling to the moon, and discusses its habitability. Wilkins was one of the founders of the Royal Society of London and a keen supporter of Copernicus' ideas. According to the latter, the Earth is just another planet orbiting the Sun. This led Wilkins and other writers of the period to think there might be other inhabited worlds like the Earth.
Who invented the telescope?
This seventeenth-century book proposes two candidates for the title of the inventor of the telescope: Hans Lipperhey and Saccharias Jannsen. The author, Petro Borel, gives preference to the latter. The telescope seems to have emerged around 1608 in the Dutch city of Middleburg, where both Jannsen and Lipperhey worked as spectacle makers. But it most likely resulted from various contributions, not simply from the effort of a single inventor. 
How big are the stars & planets?
This hand-colored plate from Andreas Cellarius' 1661 astronomical atlas, "Harmonia Macrocosmica", shows the relative sizes of the planets and stars to that of the Earth, according to the old geocentric theories of Ptolemy.  
First Modern Star Atlas
Johannes Bayer's "Uranometria" -originally published in 1603 - is generally regarded as the first modern star atlas. It presents forty-eight constellations from Antiquity plus twelve "new" constellations identified by European oceanic navigators in the Southern skies. The hand-colored plate shown here depicts the old constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman. 
A Nobleman in His Observatory
Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) ran the most sophisticated astronomical observatory that existed before the invention of the telescope. He called this observatory the Uraniborg. It was built around 1580 in the Danish island of Hven. This image shows Brahe dressed as a nobleman next to Uraniborg's mural quadrant. These and other instruments allowed him and his assistants to measure the positions of the stars and the planets with great accuracy.  
Saved from the Flames
This book compiles three decades of astronomical observations by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687). Almost all of the original copies were lost during a fire that burned Hevelius’s house to the ground while he and his wife were absent. Fortunately, many of Hevelius’s works and letters were saved by one of his daughters, who threw them out the window during the fire.
Fire in the Sky
This broadside shows the Halley comet (before it was known as such) over Nuremberg in 1682. It combines scientific elements with astrological speculation. By this time, comets were commonly regarded as omens. Publishers took advantage of the interest and anxiety they raised by selling these popular publications.
A Magnificent Sky
This work is "Firmamentum Sobiascianum", likely the most beautiful star atlas ever produced. It combines accurate astronomical measurement with exquisite artistic renditions of the constellations. The author, Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687), was not only an accomplished astronomer and maker of astronomical instruments, but also a skillful draughtsman and engraver.
Celestial Mysteries
Konrad Lykosthenes (1518-1561) wrote extensively about terrestrial and celestial wonders. This work is dedicated to celestial phenomena, particularly comets. The fanciful illustrations testify to how intriguing, mysterious, and even frightening comets looked to Lykosthenes' contemporaries. 
Unveiling the Milky Way
In this book the British teacher and landscaper Thomas Wright (1711-1786) speculates about the distribution of stars in space and presents different models to explain the Milky Way. William Herschel would later pursue these investigations on the basis of systematic observations, thus helping pave the way to modern galactic astronomy.
Affirming Women in a Man's World
Margaret Bryan was a British teacher, natural philosopher, and writer who ran private schools from young women in the early 19th century. In a scholarly environment dominated by men, Bryan was recognized as a proficient educator who mastered astronomy and related sciences of her time. She is portrayed in the frontispiece of her "Compendious System of Astronomy" together with her two daughters. The scientific instruments emphasize that the pursuit of science did not have to be exclusively male. 
The End of an Era
Johanne Bode's "Uranographia" (1801) was the last great atlas combining figurative renditions of the constellations with the accurate mapping of the sky. More than 17,000 stars are represented in this work, which also includes a great number of nebulae discovered by William Herschel. Several now obsolete constellations can be found in Uranographia, including Frederick's Glory, Felis the Cat, the Printing Shop, and the Hot Air Balloon. 
Credits: Story

Thank you to the staff of the Adler Planetarium, and to photographer Steve Pitkin, for their assistance in creating these images of our collection and this exhibition.

Visit us here: http://www.adlerplanetarium.org

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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